Note: the text of this post was published in the Virginia Mercury on 1/25/2021.
Virginia is on a path to achieve 100% renewable energy use by 2050, and utility-scale solar (USS) projects are being proposed in many counties throughout the Commonwealth. Energy companies are seeking landowners who will let their property be used for solar panels that will produce clean, renewable energy.
Utility Scale Solar Requires 5 to 10 Acres Per Megawatt
Solar photovoltaic panels require a lot of space—experts say between 5 and 10 acres per megawatt they produce. The best place for solar panels is on rooftops, industrial lands, brownfields, degraded land, and marginal farmland. Clearing forests for solar panels is not a good choice, nor is the use of prime farmland.
We can’t plop an expanse of solar panels just anywhere and expect it to be right. Solar panels require special conditions to function at their best, and every locality planning to welcome solar panels needs to develop a strategy for optimal placement. Guidance can be found from many sources like the American Planning Association, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley.
Should We Put Solar Panels on Farmland?
Utility-scale solar projects are being proposed in the county where I live in Virginia’s legendary Shenandoah Valley. Our county has denied one USS and is now in the process of reviewing the application for another one on 880 acres of farmland.
This time it seems right. The proposed solar farm is on marginal farmland—I’ll define this later. The developer has exceeded the requirements of the county, and the project meets all the recommendations for USS from the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley—a nonprofit, private organization protecting the conservation values of our rural communities.
The project has made me dig deep into the question of whether we should allow solar panels on land that can produce food. If it’s marginal land that is eroding or causing harm to the environment, then the answer is probably yes—if it complies with the many other characteristics of a properly sited USS project. These include avoiding prime farmland, setbacks, buffers, screening, wildlife-friendly permanent cover, proximity to existing transmission lines, distance to residential areas, decommissioning, and benefits to the local economy and tax base.
What is marginal farmland? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to consult the Land Capability Classification system that the Soil Conservation Service developed in the early 1960s. Its eight categories are based on limitations for growing annual crops.
Class I and II lands have the fewest limitations. Class III land has severe limitations. Class IV land has very severe limitations and so on through Class VIII. The classification system does not clearly define marginal farmland, but for me and many other soil conservationists, if the land is predominantly Class III or higher, it’s probably marginal.
Class III Land Has Severe Limitations For Producing Annual Crops
In our local case, over 70% of the land proposed for the USS is Class III or higher. That means most of the land has severe or very severe limitations for growing annual crops. Just what are these limitations? In this case, they have to do with the soil type and the steepness of the land. The land lies well and looks pretty, but the soil is highly erosive. Most of the soils on this land are born from shale. Their particles do not cling well to other soil particles, and when it rains, these soil particles easily detach and move downslope, potentially entering nearby streams and wetlands.
Lands that are Class III and above require many conservation practices to prevent soil erosion. Cover crops, contour farming, no-till, crop rotation with perennials, and grassed waterways are necessary to prevent erosion. Bare ground on this type of land in January will experience soil erosion and depressed soil health and will pollute nearby streams. The land might be better suited for a utility-scale solar project.
The developer will retire the land from annual crop production and plant wildlife-friendly perennial cover. Of the total 880 acres, 560 will be in perennial pollinator cover overtopped by photovoltaic panels. At least 300 acres will be devoted to setbacks, vegetated screens, buffers, and wildlife areas.
Is a Solar Farm Really a Farm?
If approved, will it be a solar farm? I think so. It will still be harvesting the sun to produce food and cover for wildlife. It will be harvesting the sun to produce 83 megawatts of electricity an hour—enough to supply 14,000 homes annually. And since it will be in wildlife-friendly, perennial cover it will be producing clean water and clean air. This project will be building soil health and not allowing the soil to wash away into nearby streams.
Virginia’s goal is to achieve 100% renewable energy use by 2050. We will need utility-scale solar projects to get there. Make sure your locality has a plan for the proper siting of such a project. One of the most important considerations is to avoid siting solar projects on prime farmland or land that’s best suited for growing food for a hungry planet.
The answer is yes! We must do something about the climate. This is the future. Our future here in the Valley.
Thanks for stopping in, Anita! Good comment.
Bobby, thanks for this reasonable look at this proposed project. I appreciate the background info on the land classes.
Thanks for your comment, Lee. Land-use taxes are also based on USDA’s Land Capability Classification System.
Thank you for this excellent explanation of an important issue. I think you are right where we need to be in quickly transitioning to renewable energy.
I think it is very encouraging that a solar array like this can power about 16 homes for every acre of solar panels.
I have heard that many in the energy industry are calling for large interstate transmission lines to bring electricity from wind and solar sources from the midwest and western US to the east. I think this is a mistake. I think we have enough renewable energy sources here, including off shore wind, to supply all our needs. Large interstate transmission lines are intrusive, they lose power along the way, and if they fail due to attack or other issues, a large amount of power is lost. I think it’s best to use local renewable energy.
I am forever grateful for your continuing, and well thought out work in showing us a sustainable path forward.
Here’s to a productive and healing 2021.
That is a question that has been asked many times about many endeavors. And the cynical, but too often true answer with competing interests is follow the money. The land classification system is great but only a guide. Which class land should housing developments be built on? Where should shopping centers be built? And on and on. And along with the land classification system went the adage, “use every acre according to its capabilities and treat every acre according to its needs.” What an ideal situation to achieve. Keep working at it.
Also the use of the word farm to describe an array of solar panels is a little of a stretch. It’s a play on words simply intended to garner favor for some reason. What in the heck does the word farm mean any more. Is a parcel of land occupied by 100 old junk cars that house wildlife like mice, provide hunting territory for feral cats, and with pollinator friendly plants between the cars a junk car farm? You asked.
As a beekeeper I do like the pollinator friendly plantings!
Thanks for this explanation! I learned a lot. I like the idea that this produces or at least conserves some habitat for wildlife.
What you say makes a great deal of sense. Here in Central Virginia, our soil is not as good as it is there in the Valley. But here in Central Virginia, a lot of class I and II land that was once cropland is now being grazed by horses or cattle. But someday it could grow food again, if we need it, so we should not put solar farms on it. But we sure do have a lot of less useful land with steep slopes or shallow soil that would be fine places for solar farms. And I love the idea of paying attention to what they plant around the panels. The one solar farm I have seen mostly has fescue, which is no good for wildlife. If one planted native wildflowers and legumes, and a little bit of native warm season grass, you would have good habitat for bobwhite quail, rabbits, turkeys etc. (And the solar panels would provide shelter in snow storms and would make it a little bit harder for the hawks to find the young.)
Thanks for teaching me something interesting on Monday morning, great read.
I’m not so sure this is a good idea, though I agree with Bill Limpert that we should power ourselves locally, not run power thousands of miles from sites out west that are a little more efficient for solar. Likely Class III land could be good pasture, or perhaps orchards–annually tilled crops aren’t the only option. More degraded land like MTR sites or brownfields might be a better choice…if there are such in your area. Also, distributed solar–(often called rooftop solar but your roof is not necessarily the best place for a household system). I like the idea of solar owned by those who use it, whether individual families or communities–but of course the utilities don’t like that idea. I recently heard that one of WV’s two power companies, both Ohio-based, plans to comply with VA’s new renewable mandates, doing a major build there…and backstop it with coal power from WV, where I live. This will work fairly well for you Virginians, but for us in WV, it means we get the local air pollution and we get the higher priced coal power. Everyone gets the climate impact from WV’s clinging to 19th century industry. The WV PSC is captured by the utilities and will greenlight anything they want to do. There seems to be an attitude here that the state is obliged to preserve the remaining coal jobs until the coal runs out or civilization collapses due to climate change, whichever comes first.
Since solar panels are best located at rooftops, industrial lands, brownfields, degraded land, and marginal farmland, should development be focused on the least intrusive vs the most vulnerable locations? Rooftops and degraded land should be the priority for development and not farmland. And how do our neighbors fit into these calculations?
Thank you, Bobby for this article on such a critical issue — the need to expand solar without compromising food productive lands.
Because I also live in a city, my focus has been on expanding solar in an urban area. But, some of the solutions might work in the Valley, as well. The primary one is to cover parking lots. They create clean energy sources with income to the landowner, and provide cover for automobiles/shoppers. Think of all of the large impermeable surfaces just in Augusta County.
Do you know if this has been considered? I have not looked at the economics of this, and am aware that construction costs might be prohibitive. But, given, the new dynamics of government action, perhaps new sources of funding could contribute.
To add to your reasonable argument…. our utilities have blocked the development of onsite resources of which solar, and now solar with storage, a structure which can take advantage of the best features of renewable technologies. NREL did a study some years ago of the whole country’s ability to take advantage of onsite solar. Virginia could meet 25% of total demand onsite, the study concluded. Now with storage and community installations that number could be higher, but we will have to change the regulatory rules.
It is both more efficient and cheaper to generate electricity where it is needed and also better serves the issue of cloud intermittency, but our utility regulations provide more profits when our utilities build more and sell more. That is why our utilities want to see large scale solar instead of changing the structure of the grid to meet the best use of onsite generation, efficient buildings and storage.
Thanks for sharing your internal deliberations Bobby. Based on our history together I’m not surprised to find we are of like minds related to this project and ones like it.
But Bobby, I admit I cringed a little at the idea of 300 acres of impermiable surface concentrating the effects of heavy rain. On bare land the rain would fall evenly over this erodible soil, but with angled panels it will fall on the panel and run to the lower edge of each panel and fall in a drip line, much like water falling off a gutter-less roof. We all know the long term erosive impact that has in the form of a trench and damage to building foundation.
Can you tell me if in the plans for these facilities there is some consideration for this impact? While in theory I like the idea of the perennial cover under and around each panel unit, but in practice I can’t help imagining a mosaic or patchwork of bare shaded ground along with successful cover. I can just imagine if not done right, on what you described as erodible land, this could be as bad as some of those speculative built clear cut housing developments that have wreaked havoc on local streams down there.
Ahh, the devil is in the details, Jeff. Good comments. The developer and the county both are treating the panels as impervious space; therefore requiring E & S and stormwater practices for that space. I don’t think DEQ treats solar panels as impervious—very interesting.
Unfortunately, if this solar project does not go through the land will be developed.
Thanks for providing your expertise to this issue!
Interesting post. I am a farmer in Massachusetts. We have a very limited land base for farming (thank the glaciers!). There is a developing state policy here to promote so-called “dual-use” solar on prime farmland. I am extremely sceptical that farming can be successful under a forest of metal poles with up to 50% shade. However, this plan is being driven by — wait for it — American Farmland Trust’s regional office. (Not coincidentally, the lead staff member here for AFT has applied for a large installation on his family farm.) (and the State has suggested that AFT could be a “third party certifier” to gate-keep the approval process.) The likely outcome of this policy, if pursued, will be some low-value grazing pasture replacing the extremely diverse, high value agriculture (with a thousand year history) on the fertile floodplain of the Connecticut River. As usual, what is good for a landowner, individually, is being conflated with what is good for agriculture, as a sector. And once these lands are taken out of farming, they are never going back.
Thanks Bobby, I hope this discussion continues and there is the opportunity to make this a win win and provide an option to landowners of marginal farm and pasture that struggles to produce food without harm to the environment. I hope the state and counties adopt the right guidance for these. I toured a solar farm in Wisconsin that had restored prairie habitat underneath creating a Mecca for birds and insects that actually helped boost production on adjacent farmland. As with most things dealing with our use of the land, it is not a question of yes or no, right or wrong, but a question of how we balance uses- conservation right!
Thanks for being a force for conservation!
Thanks, Al. Good comments.
I get messages from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. It happens they have an article that feeds into your piece. https://ilsr.org/model-ordinances-ground-distributed-solar/?utm_source=Energy+Self-Reliant+States&utm_campaign=e619930381-Energy_Self_Reliant_States_1_12_151_8_2015_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_86e661ed1e-e619930381-82671809
I have seen sheep incorporated into solar farm efforts. The picture indicates bees as well. It seems like solar panels are compatible with multiuse strategies.
One thing to note that so often gets overlooked it this debate (at least in media coverage that I see), is the fact that a solar farm does not permanently destroy the ability of the land to produce food again in the future…say 50 or 100 years from now when we have something better than PV solar electricity.
Yes, there will be some compaction…but not much over the life of the facility. Yes, there are concrete foundations placed in the ground…but these could be removed, or form equipment pathways between furrows if left in place. The point is, the land can fairly quickly be returned to productive use…as opposed to say a coal ash holding pond, oil refinery, landfill, etc.
I constantly hear that utility-scale solar destroys prime farmland. No, it doesn’t. What it DOES do is take it out of production for a while, and possibly require a little TLC when returned to that use.
Spot on, Dan. Thanks for stopping in.
Is this proposed solar project to provide energy to existing homes in that area? I am an advocate for solar and also like that the land will be insect ,animal friendly . Thank you for your succinct explanation of land classes, Bobby. Most helpful to understand. I trust our county supervisors are aware. Carol T
The article states that it takes 5 to 10 acres to produce a megawatt of electricity, with no mention of the time required. This omission is critical for any rational evaluation of it’s efficiency. In the same vein, Bill Limpert writes 16 homes are electrified per acre. These non quantifiable statements add nothing but confusion to our understanding of our energy systems.
Unfortunately, this is a far too common problem when our warming climate is discussed.
Our home uses around one megawatt of electricity per month and I believe it takes the 5 to 10 acres of panels to electrify my single family two person home. I may be wrong!!
Another good thing about solar panels, like buffers, is the land they are on is not fertilized as much as crop land. Reducing fertilizer application to the land is a major way to reduce nutrient export from the Shenandoah Valley.
Good point, Wayne. Also, pesticides, diesel fuel use, and Roundup ready plants.
Maybe we should also consider requiring solar panel installation on rooftops. Residential rooftops are good but consider all the massive commercial rooftops of factories, university buildings, shopping centers, etc. across this region and state. If building codes were enacted that required any building of a certain size to install solar panels to reduce the building impact on the electrical grid, we could achieve the renewable energy goals. Also, the demand for solar panels would increase, causing production of solar panels to increase, thus bringing down the cost for residential installation of solar panels on homes. This would then add to the development of renewable energy sources. This would then spur the demand for all electric vehicles because you could fuel your car for no cost.
Very good comments, Courtney. Thanks for stopping in.
The other thing you could consider with a solar farm is using a mixture of native wildflowers on the ground around the solar panel installations. These native flowers hold the soil in place, reducing erosion, and also help the native insect populations of bees and butterflies. There, an agricultural benefit for a solar farm. What other world problem would you like me to solve today?
Thank you for answering many of my questions concerning solar farm requests of the Valley. I receive interest letters regarding construction of a solar farm on my property every month as Im sure you and Jeanne as well as many others do.
I love the idea of solar but hope that instead of farm land the possibility of commerical buildings, store and industrial roof tops are explored and considered first as possible sites before we dot the landscape of the Valley with these panels.
Thanks for this educational and fun forum, keep it coming!
The first place for solar panels is every flat roofed building that can tolerate the weight. All new public flat top or south facing roofed buildings should be required to support solar panels – maybe best to incentivize them. For many reasons it makes sense to produce energy as close as possible to where it is used. Next I agree with your recommendation to put solar on fields that are less viable for agriculture provided that no chemical herbicides are allowed. Michael Godfrey recommends running sheep in the fields to keep vegetation low. It is good to keep the conversation going so we come up with solutions that are sustainable.
Land in use for solar farms can most definitely remain in active agricultural use, and that land use can be managed in a way to produce food, improve the soil, restore grassland habitat for birds, accomplish significant carbon sequestration and reduce the burning of fossil fuels to manage the land. This can all be achieved by active rotational grazing of sheep on solar farms.
Due to the requirement to minimize row-to-row shading of solar panels, and in order to provide maintenance access within the solar farm, the land actually occupied by solar panels on solar farms typically represents only appx 20-40% of the total land area on solar farms. Therefore the unoccupied land on solar farms must periodically be mown to control grass, weed and invasive growth and to minimize shading and fire hazard. On most solar farms, at this time, this mowing is conducted with mechanized mowers powered by mostly diesel internal combustion engines. In fact, additional very specialized mowing equipment has been developed, and must be acquired at additional expense, to mow the areas directly beneath the solar panels. And specialized solar panel cleaning equipment is often necessarily to manage the dust accumulating on solar panels, a result of mechanized mowing.
Sheep have been grazing in solar farm fields in Germany for twenty years, and those practices have since been adopted on solar farms worldwide. In the United States, the American Solar Grazing Association has been established to share experiences and to promote the practice. https://solargrazing.org/
To date, the primary recognized and promoted benefits have been to maintain the land in active agriculture, and to eliminate the cost and emissions associated with mechanical mowing with specialized powered mowing equipment.
There is now a developing base of research, leading to the acknowledgement and promotion of the additional significant benefits of specifically active rotational grazing of sheep on solar farms: the restoration of grassland habitat, and the sequestration of atmospheric carbon associated particularly with active rotational grazing. The sequestration benefits will sometime in near future be recognized and will be monetized, just as other techniques are monetized. Active and effective rotational grazing of sheep on solar farms requires careful observation, the adherence to a plan, and the specialized talents of trained shepherds, thus creating a new area of employment for trained agricultural managers.
Agricultural land, dedicated to use as a Solar Farm, can still be a Farm, in every sense of the word.
Hey Bobby 🙂 excellent article, thank you for the food for thought!
Erica, good to hear from you! Thanks for stopping in.
Thank you Bobby for laying out your vision for the future of solar energy in Virginia and for your shout out to Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley’s solar resources.
I want to emphasize here that achieving this vision will ONLY happen if 1- local officials have the resources and political will to adopt proper ordinances and siting guidelines for utility-scale projects, and 2- state-level policies are structured to encourage distributed solar on rooftops, coalfields, landfills, brownfields and parking lots, where we all agree solar panels should go first.
It’s going to be a lot of work by all of us to get that right.
Spot on, Kate. Thanks for your comments.
Anyone want to try to factor this into solar panel considerations?
Well done, as usual, Bobby! thanks for taking this important issue on and telling us the unvarnished facts.
An informative, good read. It helped me to organize my thinking on this matter.
Interesting start to a non-emotional discussion of Utility Scale Solar (USS). I can’t yet support USS simply because so many questions remain unanswered; albedo (reflectivity) loss and gain, associated soil and atmosphere temperature loss/gain, concentrated run-off from acres of impermeable surfaces concentrating rainfall/hail/snow&slush, etc. I have noticed in this thread and support use (and/or repurposing?) of existing structures and facilities to solar production. For example, a close friend’s small barn has enough solar installed to exceed his (large) home’s needs and could pump energy into “the grid” if the grid were only so equipped. The entire blighted Staunton Mall could potentially produce at least its own power requirements (etc.) if covered in solar.
Paul, if your home needs a megawatt (one million watts) of power per month, I humbly suggest you close the refrigerator door. The average Virginia home uses about 1,156 kw hours/month
The VIrginia cooperative extension service has been hosting a useful series of webinars on utility scale solar power.
Lots of good information to share.
The link to the recorded sessions and additional reference materials are located here: https://sites.google.com/vt.edu/vceinservice121919solarfarms
Since at least one study determined that cows and other livestock are generating more than 14% of green house gas emissions, they will have to go. There are tens of millions of acres of lower productive ag lands now devoted to grazing. Once the cows are gone, there will be plenty of land available for the tens of millions of acres of solar panels which are required to power this country without sacrificing the truly prime farmlands largely concentrated in the Midwest.
Thanks so much for your research and reporting on what will surely be a significant aspect of our future … whether we embrace it willingly now, and on our terms, or as a forced last resort solution later. Best that we get this right now, while we still have the choice! Like others, I do have some trepidation in seeing these solar farms dot our otherwise beautiful countryside, but then I’m not particularly fond of seeing oil fields, strip mines, or clear cut forest land either. Solar farms seem so much less intrusive or detrimental to the land, and they produce a clean energy. Seems like a win/win to me. Someone has to be bold and go first, to test the viability of anything new, and so if this 2nd solar project meets all of the most current standards and guidelines then I hope that the County can eventually approve it. Thanks again for weighing in!
Location, location, location..the best location for a solar panel is very close to the battery it is charging; the easy choice then is the roof (or nearby yard/field) of the structure needing the power. Gov. Northam’s push for solar, a wise, much needed move; leaving it to and rewarding Dominion, not so wise. The guidance from the state should require the power companies (their monopoly a reward from the state)to push for rooftop solar first, industrial solar plantations (a more charged term than farm) a last resort, and only on very marginal agricultural land.
Here in the Piedmont, with county government approval, Dominion and others are cutting down forests and “replanting” with massive solar plantations. There is near zero support from neighbors, the ground disturbance during installation has created major erosion and runoff issues, the truck traffic (it’s industrial!)on the narrow, winding roads, scary; no game allowed, the huge plots fenced off and, of course, no studies or mention of the heat sink created by thousand of black panels basking in the sun.
Dominion beams about green energy but charges more for it. Rooftop solar raises awareness of both personal power production and usage, likely leading to less use, more production BUT begins to cut Dominion out of their total control of the grid. Many questions, far fewer answers, so far, in this debate; but, solar is a rapidly emerging, viable reality for the energy needs of a future that is quickly gaining on us. Thanks Bobby, for your insight, info, thoughts and forum.
Several points/observations here. Several years ago I heard you give an impassioned defense for protecting Shenandoah Valley farmland, some of the worlds most productive, capable of producing food and fiber without irrigation. The proposed solar “farms” which we all know are not farms but industrial scale developments will only benifit a few wealthy developers and reduce the amount of land available to actual farmers. While this land may be marginally suited for cropping it is well suited for pasture which is always in short supply. This alone puts more pressure on existing farms as the available land mass shrinks. I have a 28 kw system on one of my barns which the casual observer would never notice. There are thousands of acres of roof in the valley which can be utilized for solar if we choose to go that route. Using hundreds of acres of precious farmland to appease our pc egos is not wise planning nor conducive to long term land conservation. There are many long term effects of these eyesores that have not been considered or measured. The amount of land needed to wean us from fossil fuels is staggering and will have many negative effects on agriculture and farm families. For what? To benifit a few wealthy landowners competing with legitimate farmers. To enable feel good politicians to check the “green” boxes. In the end we will look back and regret condoning these monstrosity’s in our beautiful valley. I know this may not be popular in your circles but let’s think and plan with our brains rather than our emotions!
Buff, good points. Thanks for posting. The sad thing with this project is that if the solar panels don’t go in, houses will. And that will close the door on farming forever. Augusta County has a requirement in their zoning ordinance, thank goodness, that requires a decommissioning plan. In other words, after 35 years of producing energy and building soil, it can revert back to growing food and fuel. And we won’t have to build a school in the meantime or provide sewer and water hookups. So, this is a 35-year relief valve for the county from urban sprawl. Another point is property rights. The owners of the property want the solar panels. Don’t they have the right to pursue this?
In a perfect world, we shouldn’t put solar panels on any farmland. Nor should we put crops we grow on the land in our cars for fuel. How ethical is that? I’m supporting this project because it meets all the planning requirements of the county, protects the land for 35 years from urban sprawl, supports property rights, and will help us achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Hi Bobby. Good article and thanks for being attentive and thoughtful through this comment section. However, I think you should clear up some of the basic confusion that is apparent here (and throughout the power sector, especially solar and wind). How much power does a utility scale solar farm ACTUALLY deliver in kWh. We all need a translation of what a solar farm is advertised to be rated at, vs expected delivery of power per hour. That is, in actual kilowatts per hour that can be applied toward kWh actually used for readers here. This is how folks can start to appreciate scale one way or the other and the associated land requirement. I note one question above was missed where Paul asks this very question and is surprised to calculate his (presumably) small home uses one MW a month and would require multiple acres of panels in reality. Later, David suggests he close the fridge as david only uses 1,100 kw per month…which of course is 1.1 mw……more confusion.
In the end, I’m suspecting the true math will show that utility scale PV is a not a good use of land of any agricultural value…(unless other things like taxpayer subsidies make it so.). Then, once one starts to realize that residential power use represents only a fraction of national power consumption, it gets downright scary how little these large land coverings are doing. I would think we’ve got plenty of sunny desert and other non-AG ground we can get more from.
You are one of the greatest conservation leaders in the Commonwealth and beyond. But on this issue I respectfully say “hold the door!”. We have not come even close to vetting the implications of this type of land use or more likely abuse. The Virginia General Assembly as well as concerned and knowledgeable citizens, need to step back and study the overall ramifications of this landslide of questionable land use. Various counties throughout the Commonwealth are allowing these monstrous “farms” with little thought as to the long term implications. Dominion as usual is milking the rate system and the PR. As many have posted here, there are many other land use areas including roof tops, parking lots etc. to place solar panels . BTW – rural land use is not just about farming crops. It’s view-sheds, diversified habitats, and truly regenerative vegetation programs. I’m late in the game with respect to weighing in on this particular proposal, but we need to step back, stop these projects for now, and do some serious risk benefit analysis at the state level. Your objective involvement in such a process would of course be most beneficial.
Scott, thank you so much for stopping in with your well-constructed thoughts. I think it is healthy that this debate is going on and there are of course lots of questions. We definitely need more guidance because the genie is out of the bottle and the easiest place to put PV is on farmland. The project I wrote about in this post was withdrawn by the developer because there weren’t enough votes from the board of supervisors to pass it. That brings me to the nexus of why it should have been approved. That land will now be developed in housing—never to return to agriculture. In Augusta County, there’s a pretty good utility-scale ordinance that requires a decommissioning plan to revert the solar project back to agriculture. So, in this myopic case, it would have been better off in solar than houses. Now, the taxpayers will have to foot the bill for sewer, water, schools, garbage, and police protection on this land. We could have been producing clean energy and pollinator habitat for 35 years avoiding the cost to the community for services and after 35 years, it goes back to farmland.
Good article Bobby, it is unfortunate Augusta County has elected officials and county staff that are so opposed to renewable energy. What will eventually happen to the Bocock and Bradley properties is one of the prime reasons we need to put solar on Ag property. Once houses, strip malls and parking lots are built the land will never return to Ag, but in the case of large scale solar the land will be off limits for development for at least 25 years, and guarantees a large tract of land returning to Ag at some point in the future. The biggest threat to Ag land is housing development and the best alternative for Ag property owners that cannot economically justify continued farming operations is leasing for utility scale solar.
Thank you for reaching out and posting your spot-on comments.
Good Article to read.
I’m Joshua Ross in the Augusta County/Shenandoah Valley area. If you want more information about how to go solar, with no upfront cost. Please reach so we have save the environment and save our hard earned money. #goinggreen!